It even sounds dauntingly technical: "automated underwriting." The phrase conjures visions of people who use the word "maths," engineers and actuarials, tinkering in some ivory tower. But among the first points made by each of those interviewed for our feature story is that automated underwriting, while clearly enabled by and dependent on the emergence of several technologies, is really about solving problems in workflow. The benefits being happier users and increased profitability.

Yes, new, different and better data must sourced and accessed, entailing data marts, external databases, policy admin systems and all that, but to actually solve any problem, the crucial component is communication about pain points: time wasted on inefficient, manual, redundant or antiquated tasks.

To create the sort of seemingly-simple, seamless experience we have come to expect from companies such as Amazon, which is engineering away the resistance that makes people slow to open their wallets, vision was all-important. Think about it for just a moment. The goal was to create the largest bookseller in the world, offering more titles than ever before, which sounds great. Everyone thinks they want a world of choices; that is until actually confronted with the baffling array and being expected to make a purchase decision. But "people who bought this also bought that," is a way to simplify, clarify and deftly guide to a decision those who may be stymied, without actually limiting their choices.

In addition to helping customers, such projects have a way of helping the companies that can deliver on that vision. In his 2008 letter to shareholders, Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos wrote: "The customer-experience path we've chosen requires us to have an efficient cost structure. The good news for shareowners is that we see much opportunity for improvement in that regard. Everywhere we look (and we all look), we find what experienced Japanese manufacturers would call "muda" or waste. I find this incredibly energizing. I see it as potential - years and years of variable and fixed productivity gains and more efficient, higher velocity, more flexible capital expenditures."

By removing "muda," insurers demonstrate to agents, brokers and ultimately consumers, that they value their time, know what they are doing, and that they can quickly and accurately assess and appropriately price their risks. Who wouldn't want that?

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